5 Reasons You Must Go to Oaxaca City

A six hour bus ride away from Mexico City is Mexico’s food and artisan capital of the country, Oaxaca City. It also happens to be as charming as a Mariachi boy band. Having just wrapped up 4 days and 3 nights in this fair city, I have started a list of all its delights.

Here are 5 of them:

Oaxaca City at Sunrise

Oaxaca City at sunrise after my red-eye bus ride on an ADO Plantino from D.F. to Oaxaca. This sight made the *trying* to sleep in a bus part well worth it.

Cuisine

I came to Oaxaca to shop for some of the best handicrafts the country has to offer, but was pleasantly surprised that is has the most renowned cuisine in the country as well. I delighted in mole (a dark, complex sauce made with dozens of ingredients – often including chocolate -that takes several days to make), tlayudas (thin Oaxaqueño “pizzas”), mescal (a liquor like tequila but made only in Oaxaca from the rare maguey agave) and tejate (a non-alcoholic maize and cacao beverage traditional to Oaxaca and once the drink of Zapotec royalty). A true foodie heaven.

La Biznaga

My meal of Las Calendas at the well recommend La Biznaga restaurant my first night.

 It was comprised of leaves of hierbasanta that were stuffed with quesillo (a local stringy, white cheese), squash blossoms and poblano chilli. The flavors were surprisingly complex and delightful. A true treat especially with the great glass of Mexican chardonnay.

Tejate

The traditional tejate drink being made by a skilled tejatera.

This semi-sweet drink found in many markets in Oaxaca is made of toasted corn, “rosita de cacao,” cinnamon, and the seeds and flowers the mamey fruit. I came across this tejatera while she was mixing the creamy coffee looking liquid with her arm well beyond elbow immersed. *Egads!* After she rinsed her arm and poured a plastic glass full for 2 boys next to me, I asked if I could try a small amount. I also added, so she didn’t think I was looking for a freebi, I had money to pay for the taste. She turned to the 2 boys and mocked me for saying that and then poured a small amount in a colorful gourd for me. Sheez! :)

Tejate

My tejate!

After I finished with an exclamation of “muy rico,” I asked her how much I owed her. She said, “Nada…but next time you come around I will charge you double.”  :)

Ceviche at Casa Oaxaca

Ceviche served in a coconut meat bowl at Oaxaca’s most celebrated and regarded restaurant, Casa Oaxaca.

Casa Oaxaca had a wonderful atmosphere and the meal was delicious, but the best part of all, besides my bottomless glass of wine, was meeting another solo traveler from NYC. We spent the better part of the evening sharing our crazy Oaxaca travel tales. He, Michael, was also nice enough to stay with me when I was locked out of my hotel at midnight (the doorman fell asleep :) ).

Handicrafts 

Shopping until I dropped was definitely part of the plan, and Oaxaca didn’t disappoint.  The town itself has many colorful markets full of artisan work that is prized around the world plus there is a variety of shops that showcase artists’ works from the surrounding villages. Colorfully painted wooden figures of real and surreal animals called alebrijes brighten shop windows as well as vibrant swaths of finely embroidered textiles and traditional rugs. My favorite part was hunting for the popular filigree jewelry made of .925 silver and gold that was worn as part of the original Tehuana attire (also Frida Kahlo’s attire of choice). A highlight was visiting the taller of an artisan and his father who are recognized nationally for their filigree talent. They allowed me in their modest workshop for a glimpse into the painstaking and exacting work they do on a daily basis. The results are incredible, beautiful and completely one of a kind (some of the pieces will be in the shop soon!).

Jose Jorge Garcia Garcia making Filigree Earrings

Jose Jorge Garcia Garcia showing me how a true master craftsman operates.

Frida Kahlo Filigree Earrings

One of the incredible finished products embellished with coral. This pair of earrings took several days to make.

Hiking the Sierra Madres

Feeling a bit of concrete fever from all my big city hopping, I found the best hike and bike tour company in town, Zapotrek, to get me out into the countryside for some fresh air and exploration.

My guide, Eric, selected a 13km hike in a region known as “Pueblos Mancomunados” – a community project made up of six towns connected by hiking and biking trails. The views of the Sierra Madres during the hike were remarkable and I was able to learn much of the history of the native Zapotec culture. My $110 all day tour included pick-up, breakfast in one of the villages, snacks, water, traditional lunch in an other village and an incredibly informed guide who loves his culture and wants to share it. It was definitely the best value tour I have ever been on and, above all, a wonderful day.

Breakfast in one of the communities

Getting a hearty start at our first village…unfortunately I caught Maria with her eyes closed!

Breakfast by the fireEric made the fire so we could stay warm…it was a bit chilly in them mountains! I am holding a mug of “coffee” which wasn’t really coffee at all…more a cinnamon, sugary dark tea.

Eduardo

On the hike I had 2 guides! This is Eduardo who works in the community and helps keeps the hiking trails clean and usable. He also shared much info about the different types of flora and fauna we saw along the trail and how they are used in the community by “healers” today.

View into Sierra Madres

One of the many picturesque views along the trail.

Jen and EricEric and I next to an agave plant.

Eric was particularly interesting to me not only because he is a native Zapotec, but because his story includes being smuggled into the USA as a child in 1989.  His dad was unable to support his family of 6 on Mexican wages so he put his faith in the fabled land of opportunity and found a “coyote” to get them across the border into California illegally. Eric’s family did indeed prosper in the USA, but the plan was always to return home. In 2004, as an adult, Eric recrossed the border back into Mexico.  He appreciates his time in America and the education he received, but his passion is his homeland, teaching tourists about his rich culture and striving to improve his community by creating job opportunities through his small business. He is a true success story and a tribute to two great nations.

Eric inspecting our lunch options

Eric inspecting out lunch options at a village restaurant after the hike.

Eric and Jen

We pretty much took one of everything…and it was delicious!

I couldn’t recommend Eric and Zapotrek more! When in Oaxaca be sure to take one of his wonderful day or multi-day trips. It will likely be the highlight of your stay.

Culture and History

Oaxaca is the most diverse and indigenous region of Mexico, and it was a treat to see the women of the different regions in their traditional garments as well as sometimes hear the different dialects.

Unlike other parts of Mexico, the pre-columbian Oaxaca never assimilated into Aztec or Mayan rule, but instead was governed from mighty Monte Albán. It was the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center for over a thousand years (500 B.C. to 750 A.D.). While I never went to see these nearby ruins, I did enjoy witnessing the ornate treasures that were discovered in its “Tomb #7” back in the 1930s. Those and many other artifacts and historical information is found at the Museo Regional de Oaxaca.

Santo Domingo de Guzmán

The 1570-built Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church.

Inside is a site to behold with its gold gilded alters and priceless artifacts. The adjoining convent is now the Museo Regional de Oaxaca.

People!

People are always the heart and soul of any destination, and Oaxaca introduced me to some of its finest. From my exceptional guide, Eric, to my patient hotel staff who upgraded me into their largest suite after I voiced my concern of feeling over-exposed on the ground level to my new friend, Pablo, who surprised me at the bus station to say goodbye, I was always treated like a Zapoteca princess.

Here are some others that made an impression:

Jesus and Jen

My niño guia/child guide, Jesus, and I in front of the world’s widest tree in Santa Maria del Tule.

After my Sierra Madre hike, Eric took me to a small village to see a 2000 year old tree famous for its trunk size (it circumference is equivalent to 35 men holding hands in a circle). While he headed to the bathroom he grabbed one of the nino guias to practice their English with me by pointing out animal figures that are created by the branches and bark. Jesus, with his laser pointer took me around the tree periodically stopping to point out, “Elephant. Do you see it?” Usually as I would start to say, “Well, I am not…” he would say, “Let’s go!” and laser point to the next animal.  “Dolphin. Do you see it? Let’s go.”  I believe I only was able to decipher 50% of the animals…however, I did finally decipher that Jesus did not really know English. He just was taught the words of the animals, a question he didn’t really care to know the answer to and “Let’s go.”  He can do the same in French. :)

Juan Manuel Garcia Experanza

Master silversmith, Juan Manuel Garcia Esperanza.

Juan and his son, Jose, were gracias enough to invite me into their workshop and home.  Juan is showing off here one of his prized pieces that helped him earn the title of “Grand Master of Popular Art of Oaxaca.”

Edgar and JenEdgar and me!

Edgar, a young Mexican visiting Oaxaca from Puebla, insisted I couldn’t leave Oaxaca without trying its Mezcal. He invited me to my first shot of Mexcal that came complete with orange slices and “sel de gusano” (worm salt..which is ground up worms, salt and a chili powder).

MezcalHere she be…worm salt and all :).

Chapulines vendadora

Vendadora of Chapulines y Gusanos (grasshoppers and worms)!

I found this woman delightful mostly because she fielded my ridiculous questions about her consumable wares. While clearly she wasn’t the most upbeat of souls, when I asked if the grasshoppers were raised on farms, she gladly replied…albeit it a puzzled by my question.  It really should have been obvious to me that grasshoppers can be found all throughout the countryside…so there is no need to raise them on farms. :)

I never did try one of these “free range” grasshoppers sautéed with lime juice and salt. But it wasn’t for lack of offers from other vendedoras in the markets.  In fact I think they reaped much pleasure asking me, “Guerrita, quieres probar?” (Blondie, do you wanna try one?) and seeing my face turn white with fear. My adventurous side only goes so far. :)

If you need more reasons to visit Oaxaca, I got them too…but this should be enough to whet the appetite.  Well, maybe the grasshoppers didn’t, but the rest should.

Vaya con Dios!

from One Girl’s Adventures http://ift.tt/1gxwXQK

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